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From Porterville to New York to Fresno: Ailey II’s Cubero dances home

When Carl Ponce Cubero takes the stage at the Tower Theatre on Sunday with the world-famous Ailey II dance company, he can finally say he made it to the big city.

Not New York, of course, where the company is based and where he has performed many times. And not the other major centers of population around the country where he’s toured as a professional.

Pictured above: Carl Ponce Cubero and Caroline Theodora Dartey are part of Ailey II. Photo: Kyle Froman

In this case, for a third grade boy growing up in Porterville, the big city was Fresno. Now, at age 25, he will finally be able to say he’s danced here.

“It feels like a homecoming,” Cubero says.

Ailey II, the “second company” of the famed Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, makes a return visit to Fresno thanks to the Lively Arts Foundation. Artistic director Diane Mosier has long been a fan of the company, which features younger, up-and-coming dancers, some of whom will go on to positions in the main company.

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For Cubero, who graduated from Monache High School in Porterville in 2012 and went on to get a degree in dance at UC Irvine before moving to New York, landing a spot in the company was career — and life — changing.


Related story: Review: Carl Cubero has a night to remember with Ailey II

“Ailey II has been by far the most challenging thing I’ve experienced in my life,” he says. “It’s one of those jobs that tests your love and passion for the artform.”

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Growing up in Porterville in a Filipino-American household, dance wasn’t part of Cubero’s natural vocabulary. But Lynn Wise, his third-grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School, recognized his potential after a class production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“She saw something in me, probably a creative energy that was a little disruptive,” Cubero says. “She signed me up for a year of dance classes at Deenie’s Dance Workshop, which is the place you go in town to learn technique.”

Carl Ponce Cubero

Wise paid for the first full year.

“My parents had never even thought about dance classes. They were hesitant at first, but then they saw my first recital.”

At Deenie’s, he learned it all: ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary. In his 10 years attending dance classes, he was one of just a few boys amongst a sea of girls — a common occurrence in dance education, especially in smaller towns.

When it came time to go to consider college, he learned that dance could be a viable subject to study. He convinced his parents.

“My mom really wanted me to pursue nursing as my Filipino bloodline demands,” he says with a laugh. “But going to college really opened my eyes, because I saw a plethora of different avenues to pursue dance.”

Still, it comes back to that first kind gesture from a dedicated teacher.

“I’m very very grateful to the entire Wise family. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

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He’s the oldest in the current crop of young Ailey II dancers. (“I’m the grandpa,” he says.) The program for Fresno includes some of the company’s hardest pieces currently in its repertoire.

The lineup includes the soulful “Tracks,” choreographed by former company member Uri Sands, which features a blend of ballet, modern, and urban dance techniques. The soundtrack includes The O’Jays, Pharrell and Snoop Dogg, and, according to the company, “underscores the powerful movement which examines racial, sexual, and economic divisions in our world today.”


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“Breaking Point,” choreographed by Renee I. McDonald, features music by Audiomachine, is a good representative piece that demonstrates the wide range of the company’s prowess, Cubero says.

His favorite work in the program is “Where There Are Tongues,” a demanding piece choreographed by South African-born Bradley Shelver. None of the dancers leaves the stage for the duration of the 30-minute piece, making it exhausting both physically and emotionally.

Cubero finds it amusing that while he’s performed all over the country, this will be his first time in Fresno. (He had considered auditioning for a Fresno version of “The Nutcracker” when he was in high school, but he couldn’t make the logistics work.) Friends and family members from Porterville will be in the audience. (Wise, his former teacher, won’t be able to make it because of a family obligation, but she’ll certainly be there in spirit.)

The best part is that his parents will be there. They were able to see their son dance in Irvine, but they haven’t been able to make it to New York yet to see him dance there. This will be the first time they see him in Ailey II. He’s dedicating his performance to them.

He knows it will be a special evening.

“I hope the audience leaves the concert feeling whole and inspired,” he says. “I’m coming back to Fresno to prove that with hard work and determination, you can make it anywhere.”


Show info

Ailey II at the Tower Theatre, 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. Tickets are $30-$65.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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